?

Log in

Question on Civil Liberties: Harry Potter and the Hobbesean Sovereign

« previous entry | next entry »
Apr. 6th, 2011 | 09:59 pm
music: John Hiatt - Back Of My Mind | Powered by Last.fm

From the comments on the last Harry Potter post:

reasonandmusic:I was actually looking up the Wizengamot today and both the Lexicon and the wikia agree that it's rare for the accused to have the equivalent of our lawyers. It can happen, but it's only an option. Despite this making me go o______o at Hogwarts' legal system, it might shed some light on the lack of things like debating at Hogwarts.
The idea that the Wizarding world has few to no guaranties for the rights of the accused, a limited free press if Fudge's leverage with the Daily Prophet is any indication, etc. makes me go 0______0, too. And I've since been trying to puzzle out why wizards would accept an autocratic bureaucracy. And, maybe I have an idea of sorts about why that might be? Feedback or suggestions on this would be great.

 

The International Statute of Secrecy, the agreement that settled Wizards would be going into hiding, was signed in 1689 and took effect 1692. I think it's probable that, probably, many individual nations had gone into secrecy before the international agreement passed, and even in nations which hadn't already formally gone into secrecy my totally unsupported intuition would be that already wizards were setting up a highly insular and detached society of their own with little to no interaction with social and political movements in the Muggle world. If that's the case, then some of the most famous works on the Rights and Liberties of citizens of the Enlightenment might not have received the same currency in the Wizarding world as our own. Locke's Two Treatises of Government was first published in 1690, and Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government in 1698 (posthumously, with Sidney having been put to death for treason in 1683). Jean-Jeacques Rousseau wouldn't be born until 1712, and among contractarian thinkers before Locke: Grotius, Pufendorf (who has the best name ever), and Suárez, I don't think there's much talk, other than in Suárez, of a right of revolution. (I think, but my reading in those three is pretty shallow) All of which is to say that I imagine Wizarding society developed apart from a bunch of the people who shaped political thinking as it exists today. 

More importantly, Wizarding society is secret. I've mentioned this point in previous posts, but I don't think until recently I've appreciated the enormity of the collective action problem presented. You have a few thousand wizards in a country, plus the families of muggle-born wizards, aware of a secret society. You need almost perfect compliance to keep the secret, and the consequences for failing are exposure among a much larger people who, with near unanimity, want you dead (although admittedly they suffer under some grave misconceptions about the most efficient way of killing you). And, assuming the secret does get out, a response needs to be immediate. How can a secret among thousands of people stay secret if all that is necessary for a return to witch hunts and persecution is one person breaking trust or being careless? Managing slip-ups needs is a large enough job that it needs a dedicated organization: a very large, very intrusive organization that knows what is happening in all Wizardom at any given time.  Enforcing secrecy requires the ability to swiftly punish anyone who might break the trust of the Wizarding community. More shortly, wizards are a society in an unceasing state of paranoia, and their laws reflect it: they tolerate a corrupt and self-serving bureaucracy because it has thus far succeeding in keeping them secret, and the instability of its removal itself might attract muggle attention (the Wars against Lord Voldemort pushed the ministry nearly to its limits in preserving the secret of wizarding society). It is, almost exactly, Hobbes' solution to the state of nature applied to the very different circumstances -- the problem being solved here differs in the notable respect that the incentives to break the trust of wizarding society come from a desire to share one's abilities with friends or neighbors rather than human selfishness. It is not the prisoner's dilemma of getting out of the state of nature which is the same, but the use of a powerful sovereign to enforce and prevent the dissolution of a public agreement which is the same.

Some corollary points. I asked in previous posts what defined membership in wizarding society, and if it was even meaningful to ask that question. These remarks offer a potential answer: knowing and keeping the secret is what it means to be a witch or wizard. Whatever differences the community might have, however alienated one individual might feel, they do not expose wizarding society (it's worth pointing out that Gellert Grindlewald didn't believe in remaining secret and, though I can't be sure of it, I faintly recall Voldemort intending the same eventually? Neither were terrifically popular). This also offers some insight, maybe, into the thinking behind anti-muggle-born and anti-werewolf bigotry. Both, for different reasons, pose a greater risk to keeping the secret than a pure-blooded wizard might. Muggle-born wizards might be tempted to tell close friends or extended family, having not been born into wizarding society. Their attachment to muggle society is a threat to the continued secrecy of wizards. Werewolves, who periodically lose control of themselves, pose the threat of revealing wizards by accident. In the end, both appear as risks toward the secrecy that allows wizarding society to exist.

But I could be totally wrong or way off.  Also I haven't proof-read this at all so if something's unclear please point it out.

Link | Comment | Share

Comments {2}

Naranne

(no subject)

from: reasonandmusic
date: Apr. 8th, 2011 07:18 am (UTC)
Link

(Rousseau. <3 I love some of the Enlightenment writers.)

The first thing that springs to mind is, honestly, the saying, "ignorance is bliss". And the next thing that I think is: well, no, it's not, because ignorance is often the fuel for hatred and bigotry.

I definitely think you're onto something here, although it saddens me that wizarding society should still be so backward. I remember, also, Arthur Weasley saying once that if the Muggles knew about wizards, they'd (the wizards) be endlessly harrassed for magical solutions to their problems. It makes me wonder what happens to those who wish for greater freedom, democracy, and integration -- I can't imagine, for example, Hermione being such a willing citizen.

What happens, then, especially after Voldemort's defeat? There would be a dangerously thin line between "keeping the wizarding world secret" and "anti-Muggle prejudice", I should think. It makes me wonder, again, what would be the reaction should a Hogwarts (or equivalent) graduate want to complete Muggle education as well, for those areas where there are no wizarding equivalents? Surely, surely, throughout all of wizarding history there have been wizards and witches who have found out about the Muggle political system, looked at their own, and realised just how frighteningly backward it is. If that were the case, then it really casts a dark light on the regime -- if it's still the way it was in 1692 in 2011 (assuming that in the epilogue, nothing had changed), then what did happen to anyone who dared to think differently?

Then again, this is veering very close to twisting facts to suit theories, rather than theories to suit facts. However, if you're on the right track about these issues' impact on bigotry regarding Muggle-borns and werewolves (and I think you are), then that highlights some very real autocratic elements within even a modern Ministry. For example, when the early werewolf laws were penned, Wolfsbane potion did not exist. Wouldn't a better solution be to keep tabs on who is a werewolf, and enforce a compulsory check-in with St Mungo's perhaps annually, to ensure that every werewolf has ample supply of Wolfsbane potion? Which, according to Lupin, renders him a "harmless wolf".

I think I've done a lot of rambling and a lot of question asking, and very little question answering. :< sorry.

I definitely feel you've got the right of it here, or at least one side of it (I think it's more likely to be a multi-faceted problem), and it's certainly given me food for thought regarding my Big Bang fic.

Reply | Thread

troldtog

(no subject)

from: troldtog
date: Apr. 8th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Link

I've done a lot of rambling and a lot of question asking, and very little question answering. :< sorry.

When figuring out a different world the former is way more important than the latter, so don't worry about it.

Although it saddens me that wizarding society should still be so backward. I remember, also, Arthur Weasley saying once that if the Muggles knew about wizards, they'd (the wizards) be endlessly harrassed for magical solutions to their problems. It makes me wonder what happens to those who wish for greater freedom, democracy, and integration -- I can't imagine, for example, Hermione being such a willing citizen.

Neither can I. And I imagine Mr. Weasley's treatment in the Ministry gives some suggestion about what happens to those who fall closer to the integration side of the spectrum: their work is ignored, they're mocked and ostracised from influential groups. If someone actively advocated integration with muggle society I imagine they'd suffer all that plus the Ministry keeping constant watch on them. On the other hand, the existence of a Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Department complicates the picture, a little. Much as they might want to, the Ministry can't ignore the muggle world either. They need people like Mr. Weasley to manage their invisible interactions with muggle society, too. The Lovegoods might also be worth a look, though their treatment isn't in nearly as linked to interest in muggles (rather than obscure mythical creatures). Ultimately it's a sort of paradox, by being mistrustful of muggle-born people, it's much harder for them to feel accepted into wizarding society -- which only makes trying to go back to muggledom more appealing I'd think.

I don't necessarily think the Ministry has been the same throughout its history, just that it never democratized. It seems that the adoption of modern bureaucracy definitely made a successful transition to the Wizarding world. It might also be that in the past laws were far looser and only got so autocratic as human technology for communication improved (before video cameras, phones and the internet bizarre sightings of dragons or people with wands would make the rounds much slower, nowadays there's just no room for slip ups at all. The motives for a restrictive government -- the terrifying ease of being found out found out -- have gotten stronger, not weaker, over time)

So what's all that mean for someone who wanted to pursue degrees from both wizarding and muggle institutions? I'm not sure. Potentially it'd be as mild as "Fine, but hand in your wand and don't use magic at all while at school." (Reimplement the trace perhaps, I don't really know). Potentially the Ministry might do something drastic to keep them from going to places with lots of muggles period? It's tricky, because the constraint on keeping invisible binds the Ministry as much as it does individuals, so how visible anything they might do to stop the person wanting to study at a muggle institution isn't clear. After a certain point I'd think efforts to stop him or her might just be too visible and they'd cave in. (Could social movements threaten to expose wizarding society if their demands weren't met? What would happen?)

What happens, then, especially after Voldemort's defeat? There would be a dangerously thin line between "keeping the wizarding world secret" and "anti-Muggle prejudice", I should think.

Absolutely. I think that pessimistic as I am about the state of wizarding society, the Harry Potter books chronicle something genuinely transformative and what happens after them is just as murky as wizarding history. How well-founded is the fear that if wizards weren't secret muggles would harass them into providing solutions for their problems? Is there a certain point technologically where that fear vanishes? When is it? Can wizards integrate into society then? And, honestly, I don't know the answer. There're a lot more questions to answer, but I don't really know where to start on those right now.

Reply | Parent | Thread